Formed 2004 ... Herts 7s U14 Runners-up 2005 ... North Herts U14 team, Herts Youth Games 2005 runners-up (coached by Letchworth)... Herts Superteams U14 Runners-up 2005 ... Herts SuperTeams "Fairplay" winners 2006 ... Rochford 10s U17 Champions 2006 ... East Midlands 10s U17 Runners-up 2007 ... East Midlands 10s U17 "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... National 10s U17 5th place and "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... Herts 7s U17 Plate runners-up 2007 ... National 7s U17 Plate winners 2007 ... RFU "President's XV" Award winners 2007 ... Herts Superteams winners 2007 ... Midlands 10s U18 Runners-up 2008 ... National 10s U18 4th place 2008 ... North Herts U11 team, Herts Youth Games 2008 runners-up (coached by Letchworth girls) ... London and SE 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2008 ... Herts 7s U18s runners-up 2008 ... National 7s U18s quarter-finalists 2008 ... Gloucester City 10s U18 Bowl runner-up (6th) 2009 ... Worthing 10s U18 Plate runner-up 2009 ... National 7s U18 Plate winners 2009... Worthing 10s U15 Plate winners 2010... Worthing 10s U18 Shield winners 2010... Herts 7s U15 and U18 Bowl runners-up 2010... National 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2010...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

One week later...

The RFUW have finally noticed that their own National 7s tournament took place last week. 

The report that has finally appeared is not exactly a model of journalistic expertise - short and sweet might be the best way to describe it (though maybe lacking a bit in the sweet department). Terse and unenthusiastic might be other applicable adjectives. "Well illustrated" would, on the other hand, be a less apt description.

Nor is it staggeringly accurate - you have to worry a bit when the governing body doesn't know where one of its main clubs comes from (H3 are from Sussex, of course) not understands its status. H3 is not a cluster, but a fully affiliated club in its own right. Though it draws players from three boys/mens clubs none of these are RFUW members (so it is not a "cluster" of girls teams). 

What makes a complete rugby club?

The steady stream of rugby news that tends to find its way here these days varies a bit in interest and relevance, but if there is a trend then it is generally pretty positive towards the worldwide development of women's and girls' rugby. Gradually barriers seem to be coming down, attitudes changing. Even in male dominated societies women's rugby is growing - women play rugby in Iran, Laos and Cambodia played their first international last week (only 10-a-side, but it will now be an annual event), and an Indian team will take the field for the first time next month.

But just occasionally you get news stories that make you sit up and say "what???". And rather a lot of these stories tend to come from nearer home.

Take for instance today. From the RFU I get their latest newsletter with an article praising to the skies a rugby club that is...
"setting the standard for rugby clubs up and down the country by becoming the first club in England to achieve the Rugby Football Union’s Whole Club Seal of Approval award"
Wow. Apparently...
"the Whole Club Seal of Approval award recognises the effort and achievement of volunteers in reaching the required standard of a club committed to the development of rugby union."
Sound amazing. They have obviously worked hard. So who is this club? The answer that they probably won't mean much to you. Why? Because they have no women's or girls' team. So far as I can judge they are nor even part of their county cluster and their comprehensive website mentions girls just twice - once in the mini section saying that girls are welcome, and once in a tour report which apprears to see girls as a form of entertainment for the boys. 

Okay, they are only 20 miles from a club with a big, well known girls' team - but within around 20 miles of Letchworth you'll find Welwyn, Hertford, Saracens, Ampthill and Stevenage, so that is no excuse.

But this is not a dig at the winning club (which is why I have avoided mentioning them). What I have problems with is the RFU saying that such a club could be "setting the standard for rugby clubs up and down the country". When one rugby player in 12 in England is now female, is (effectively) a male-only club (with, presumably, no development plan for girls or women's rugby - well not one that works anyway) really the model that the sport's governing body should be encouraging everyone to emulate?  Surely a basic requirement for a truly model rugby club would be one that successfully embraced the entire local community - not just half of it?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hayley Guilder: A legend amongst legends

What do you say about Hayley? How do you get over how important she has been to the girls section at Letchworth? Her ability to lift the whole team just by being there - if Hayley was in the right mood (and most of the time she was) anything was always possible.

The memories are so many. Telling off her coach at Herts Youth Games because she disagreed with the tactics (that attitude started early - and she was probably right too!)... the multi-coloured shorts... the taste in music (make it LOUD!)... the team's only ever red card... three scores in (about) a minute in one sevens game... the toilet stops (no journey home was complete without one)... the vision... the tackles... the tries...

Whatever she is like to play with or against, one unarguable fact is that Hayley is without question an incredibly exciting player to watch. Hayley can sidestep with the best of them - but when that is not an option there are fewer players (especially of her size) more capable of simply crashing through the opposition line. Utterly fearless and incredibly strong it often takes about three players to stop her (as above!) - and even then her ability to break out of a tackle and continue to take the ball on is astonishing.  

Over 100 points in her first season (not bad for someone who played most of that year at prop!) - and well over 500 points in her Letchworth career - but there was more to Hayley than a try scoring machine who could rack up a hat-trick in a minute (against Wasps at the 2006 Herts Sevens). She is amazingly versatile for starters - in five years Hayley has played in every position, except that of hooker!

Her tackling could be pretty impressive too - never more so than against Kettering in the 2007 Herts Sevens. Defence troubled by a three on one overlap? No problem if the "one" is Hayley...

Three tackles in maybe five seconds and its overlap? What overlap?

All this makes Hayley's representative selections all the stranger. 

In 2005 Hayley was East Region's "player of the year", but a year later Hayley's main role at county seemed to be restricted to this (left).

Despite the then county coach's lack of faith in our star she was still selected for the HPAs - and then initially dropped from the regional squad the following season (an event that sparked a fair amount of controversy before the decision was changed!). Then once again she was selected for the HPAs! 

National coaches have always been aware her talent - narrowly missing out on the England U20 squad it was at their insistence she trialed and was selected for the senior regional squad only weeks after her 18th birthday.

But then there has always been more to Hayley than rugby. Angry Girl is also Party Girl committed to enjoying herself. And if that means tackling practice on a bouncy castle on the day before the regional finals then that is what has to be done and to heck with the consequences (a broken hand, in that case). And as for the late Saturday nights and playing with a hangover on a Sunday - isn't that what all real rugby players do anyway?

Letchworth will miss Hayley - and as Hayley's "chauffeur" for what must have been thousands of miles over the past five years I miss her as well - including the way she was always ready on time(!), the lost gumshields, the music, and the legendarily inconvenient toilet stops on the journeys home. At one awards evening I said that this was one player I'd happy pay to watch play, which I guess I did over the years! And I don't regret a penny of it. Stars like H are rare indeed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mel Hobbs: Its all been YOUR fault!

I guess everyone knows about Mel's pivotal role in getting all this off the ground. So much of it was down to her determination to play - a determination never frustrated despite, first, the sudden collapse of the Scorpions girls team based at Datchworth (only weeks after Mel had gone along to a training session) and then Hitchin's refusal to run the North Herts girls tag team for Youth Games.

Mel was going to play one way or another, even if we had to build a team just for her. Which is what we did. Which is why you now spend your winter Sundays and Thursday evenings covered in mud and interesting bruises - its entirely Mel's fault!

She was there from the start - as naive and green as the rest of us. Who can forget, for example, her attempts to play with her glasses on - and against Welwyn too!?

Mel was a regular player for the first two or three season, generally at centre, without perhaps making a huge impact. She picked up awards - Most Improved Player in 2006/7, for example - and was in the Herts 7s finalists in 2005 - but its interesting that there are not that may photos of Mel in action in the early years.

There may have been other pressures, but I think I'm right in saying that Mel began to feel (rightly or wrongly) that she didn't have a set place in the team, and began to drift away so that she never appeared for us from the middle of the 2007/8 season.

But that all changed this season. Persuaded to come back by new captain Nikki, Mel also leapt at the chance to take on a new role (and one that some of us had always thought she might do). 
After four years with Katie as scrum half the team suddenly needed a replacement. Mel stepped forward, and immediately began to play as if born to the role.

Her confidence did not so much as bloom as explode. She had never been a bad player - indeed she was always far better than she herself would ever accept - but now she was everywhere on the field. 
Opposing scrum halves (regardless of size!) had to move pretty smartly to stand any chance of getting the ball away, while anyone else who came too close to Mel would find themselves in trouble.
But perhaps it was when she got the ball in her hands that Mel became a revalation. Incredable speed, lightning change of direction, huge strength. A sniff of a gap and she was gone...

And now she is gone - well, from playing for the U18s anyway. Because it seems that Mel will be back next season - with Carla - as coaches for the U15s (and, if they are lacking in numbers, maybe as a player too - no-one would notice!). It promises to be an awesome coaching team - between them they have played just about every position on the field. U18s loss this season will definately be the U15s gain. Go Mel!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rosie Randall: Number One

Rosie joined the section at the beginning of 2005. Linking up with Jade Randfield she was the last piece in the creation of a remarkably powerful scrum for a team of novices.

We were very much a forward based team in those days. In practice age bands were rather more flexible and most of the time we were able to put out a single all-age team with five-player scrum featuring Rosie and Jade as props, Carla as hooker, and two from Nichola, Nim and Hayley in the second row. With Katie at scrum half what the team lacked in skill and experience, it more than made up for 
with guile and power. It was undoubtedly why that team did so well in its first season - and Rosie was a key part of the success.

But Rosie's greatest game in that first season came in one of the few "legal" U14 games in the first Herts 7s at Cheshunt. 

Lining up alongside Carla and Nichola, her first great contribution was to release Hayley into the backs to cause havoc. However, it was in the semi-final that she came into her own. 
That first Herts 7s was a bit smaller than those that have come later. Only 7 teams in the U14s, and our semi-final was against Chesham - who we had already beaten in a mildly controversial pool game (not our fault - the referee mucked up the rules and wanted to declare our 20-10 win a draw. We objected). 

The game was desparately close - and was Rosie at the centre of a heroic defence of a one try lead in the second half that saw us into our first final in our first tournament.

Rosie was originally less confident about going forward with the ball - a tendency to use the ball as an air cushion when going into tackles being a slight problem. 

However, encouraged by her coaches (not least her brother, Joe) she improved year on year and year so that Rosie is now an important attacking option now, drawing in the defence while taking crucial yards. Rosie can take some stopping - as Ampthill discovered (right).

Rosie's tackling can also be pretty impressive (as left against Worcester) - in fact she is now the perfect prop. 

When it came to 10s and 15s - real rugby - Rosie was deservedly first name down on the teamsheet - a number one Legend!

Yetis look back on their tour

Just came across this article about the Yetis' tour earlier this year.

Fascinated by the line near the end when Lisa Coolidge says:
“We were billeted in Letchworth and got to meet the whole team there and learn some British slang. It was a great experience.”
Who put Lisa up? Anyone care to let us know what particular bits of slang they taught them (if it is printable)?

Hall of Fame updated

The Hall of Fame (see column on right) has now been updated. Please let me know if I've missed out anything of note.

The aim is to recognise and record any achievement gained by anyone since they joined the club - so before anyone asks Lizell's England call-up isn't included because she wasn't a member of Letchworth at the time!

(In addition, all the results pages are now up-to-date as well. I think.)

Annual Awards evening II

At the Youth section Awards evening at the end of April, the Girls section presented awards for representative rugby but, having played only 20 of our planned 40 games for the season, we held back the presentation of the main trophies to an end of season party after the RFUW National 7s.

So on Bank Holiday Monday the coaches, officials, players and families got together to celebrate another successful season with a barbecue, a few games and, of course, the presentation of the main awards.

It was a particularly important occasion because it marked the end of an era with founder and manager, John Birch, moving on after 224 games in charge. Not only that but the calendar had caught up with another 3 of the original team from 2004 - Hayley, Carla and Mel - who are moving on to senior rugby. Next season that will leave us with only one member of the original team still playing at Letchworth - Nikki (who has played in a mere 178 games under John's leadership!)

The awards, presented by John as his last official engagement for the club, were as follows :

U15s Players Player : Sydney Gregson
U18s Players Player : Natalie Threlfall

U15s Most Improved Player : Jade Cooper
U18s Most Improved Player : Jess Robinson

U15s Player of the Year : Ellah Hughes
U18s Player of the Year : Nikki Alcock

Commemorative T-shirts were presented to John and all the players moving on to senior rugby and the evening rounded off with the presentation of a number of gifts to John from club and players including a photo album of pictures from the last 5 years, an autographed photo of the first game in 2004 and an engraved salver.

The photo below shows John with Mel, Nikki, Carla and Katie who were members of the original Letchworth Girls team of 10 October 2004 :

There are a number of other pictures from the evening available on the Threlfall archive.

Good news for next year's U18s

Hopefully next season could see the return of a Legend. No names yet until we know for certain but she is a forward (and we are going to be short of them!) and an ex-East Midlands regional player, so you can probably work it out. 

This takes the section close to double figures for 2009/10 in both age bands - and that is before the next recruitment drive in September. And before we include the friends you are going to drag along when training restarts... in only about 10 to 12 weeks time (watch this space)! 

So start telling them how great the game is - throw a few rugby balls around on the beach or in the park. Show them your medals. Enthuse them. Next season promises a whole new set of challenges for everyone (whatever your experience) - and the more players we will have the better it will be.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Charley & Mel: They came from the East...

...of Hertfordshire, and they have been pure gold (without the need for any other gifts).

One of our prouder boasts is that we are, at heart, a "local" team - almost all of the girls who have played for Letchworth have come from the Garden City or its neighbouring towns and villages. In fact it is not going too far to say that any rugby club could (even should) be capable of building a girls section like we have - they just need to make the effort. Unfortunately not all clubs do - and even some clubs that do build viable girls teams seem to be too willing to allow those teams to fall apart when the main driving force leaves.

Such a club was Bishops Stortford. When we started in 2004 they were a significant team, but somehow things began to slip and some time into our second season it became clear that they were in trouble. We still managed to play them home and away, but by the end of 2005/6 they were not even capable of sending a team to our Herts Sevens. By 2006/7 they had disappeared. We hear that there are attempts to revive the section so maybe we could play them again next season. However, the one positive that came out of Stortford's failure was that as a result in 2006 we picked up Charley Hughes, a player who I think we all believe to be one of the best - and certainly the most overlooked - hookers in the county, if not beyond. 
Its a curious thing that the ability to actually hook seems almost irrelevant to the selection for hookers when it comes to representative teams. Its all about being able to thrown into the line-out  - despite the fact that the line out is the most over-trained and little used aspect of the girls' game. 

It is not unusual to see a girls match with no line-outs at all... but there are always scrums.  Yet the assumption seems to be that specialism there is less important because almost all scrums will be won by the team putting in, and that any hope of a strike against the head will be due to the pushing power of the props. No-one seems to value cunning, quick thinking (and quick feet) of a truly gifted hooker - like Charley

Which is not to say that Charley has not been backed up by strong and powerful props, but even so the ratio of scrums won against the head by front rows lead by Charley has always seemed to be incredibly high. In most games, and against all levels of opposition, we have always seen an opposition put-in with Charley as hooker as a 50:50 ball (and our own put in as close to a certain win as makes no odds!). There are any number of games where we (or more to the point Charley) has won every scrum. 

But like all great forwards her skill remains a closely guarded mystery - because from the touchline we often cannot see it. Quite how she achieved all she did it I don't think anyone outside maybe the front row can really know - perhaps she does not know herself - but I suspect that we may owe many of our victories to Charley and her frontrow team just as much as the girls whose names appeared on the scoresheet.

Her game elsewhere has also been good. She may not have had a spectacularly long throw, but it has always been accurate, she could be relied upon to get to just about every breakdown, her tackling has been good (and often try-saving - as on left against Suffolk) and, while she never seemed to relish getting the ball in her hands, her running (above)and passing could not be faulted. Off the field - quiet (well, quieter than some anyway!), but utterly reliable - and always (for someone so damn good at what she did) curiously lacking in confidence. So let's just put this down as a matter of record - Charley... you are brilliant. Stay in the game - because there are few out there with as much talent as you.

Charley is also responsible for giving us another member of the forwards union who is leaving us - Mel Whitfield. 
Second row and occasional prop, Mel has come and gone a bit over the two or three years she has been with us, but it was great to have hear back this season - just at the moment when we lost two key forwards (Emily and Laura Watson). A strong and potentially talented player, Mel perhaps hasn't been able to turn that potential into Charley's level of on-field success as she has not been able to play or attend training as regularly. But despite several months away she hit the ground running when she returned to the fold after the New Year. It is a pity that just at the moment she has returned to her old form, she must now leave again - and this time with not hope of coming back (unless she can forge her birth certificate!).

Charley and Mel. Stortford's loss has been our gain.

Harpenden Heroines!

It was a warm and sunny day at Harpenden on Saturday where the National 7s were taking place. As Wonky et al were away at the Bournemouth 7s, last years U18s captain, Katie, and 2006/7 coach, Joe, filled in as U18s coaches for the day. For several of the Letchworth girls (Mel, Hayley, Carla, Nikki and coach Katie), this was a return to the club where they had first competed in the tournament in 2005 and lost all their games ... ... needless to say, this year they were hoping for something much better than that!

An interesting feature of this years event was that only one club official was allowed on the pitch during the game. So although we came with first aiders, water carrier and coaches, only one of us could wear the yellow jacket ... it was but a moments thought before we nominated Katie who tried to stay cool carrying the water and first aid bag. Someone suggested that, if we gave her a couple of flags and a whistle, she could run both lines and referee the game as well ...... the photo shows what Katie thought of that suggestion!

As has been remarked many times before, Letchworth U18s always get drawn in the same group as Worcester. Well, not this time! We were actually in a group with Wimborne & Ellingham, Esher and the Barbarians and our first match was against the south-west team. For the second time in recent weeks the Letchworth girls started the tournament well by taking the game to Wimborne and keeping the pressure on. This was a very good, fiercely competed game of rugby which Letchworth seemed to have under control. A couple of tries by Lizell saw them in the lead 12-10 coming into the closing stages, only for Letchworth to be denied victory by a Wimborne try with the last move of the game.

The second group game against Esher was a 'must win' game for Letchworth if they were to proceed to the cup competition. Again, this was a hard fought game but this time it was the opposition who took an early lead and Letchworth who were chasing an equaliser through most of the game. In the end two late tries for Esher gave the scoreline (0-15) a rather lopsided look for what was an evenly balanced game.

So, after two close games - and two defeats - Letchworth were already confined to the Plate competion and were feeling that they were getting no help whatsoever from Lady Luck. Nevertheless, there was a determination in the camp that they should not go home empty handed on a day when 7 players were playing their last U18s game for the club and girls section founder and manager, John Birch, was in charge for the last time.
The final group game against a very recently formed Barbarians side was a game that finally saw Letchworth get a victory by 33- 7 to secure 3rd place in the group.

Letchworth now entered the knock-out stage of the event by playing a plate quarter final against Aylestone St. James. Although Letchworth were playing well, took an early lead and maintained it throughout, this was another close game which ended with the score at 22-15 in Letchworth's favour.
The Plate semi-final against Tynedale was another good performance from the Letchworth girls with Hayley, Lizell and Jess running in tries to secure the match 21-10 and earn a place in the Plate final for the second time in 3 seasons.
Uniquely this season, Letchworth had reached the final match of a tournament and still had a full strength squad to use in that game! The Plate final saw Letchworth drawn against H3 who we have never played before but the girls were determined not to fall at the final hurdle on their last match together. Letchworth put on a very strong display to put 5 tries past H3 and win the final 29-14.

The victory meant that in last three visits to the National 7s, Letchworth U18 girls have got to the cup quarter-final once and won the plate twice. What a great way to finish off the season!


Group matches :

Letchworth 12 v 15 Wimborne & Ellingham
Letchworth 0 v 17 Esher
Letchworth 33 v 7 Barbarians

Plate Quarter-final : Letchworth 22 v 15 Aylestone St. James

Plate Semi-final : Letchworth 21 v 10 Tynedale

Plate Final : Letchworth 29 v 14 H3

Letchworth scorers

Tries : Lizell (7), Hayley (4), Jess (4), Laura (2), Natalie, Nikki
Conversions : Nikki (8), Lizell (2), Hayley

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